My complicated relationship with English identity
For many minorities in England, an English identity isn’t always something we’re able to embrace
I’ve always had a complicated relationship with England. While I’m British (specifically English) born, I’ve never really identified as English. West Indian (as the identity and home of my culture and family)? Yes. British? Typically. But considering myself as English, despite being born here, is something that I, and many English born minorities, have found difficult to square with our identity.
Before the the nationalists and English patriots start foaming at the mouth, echoing Enoch Powell’s infamous “rivers of blood” speech and demanding I take Norman Tebbit’s “cricket test”, it’s important to understand what being English and English identity means, rightly or wrongly, for many minorities. Alas, the scenes that followed the Euro 2020 final are exactly how Brand England is perceived to many of us and indeed around the world.
I felt the closest affinity I’d ever experienced with this England team. They seemed to represent the antithesis of what the racists subsequently portrayed as Brand England and I shared the national desire for them to be victorious as a team. Yet I couldn’t bring myself to join in with the choruses of “it’s coming home” that could be heard wherever you went.
You see, despite being born here, there are many who would tell me England isn’t my “home” and many would go further to add that I should actually “go back home”. To the sections of English society who maintain those views, being born here, educated here and having spent my adult working life contributing to English society would be an irrelevant detail. To them, as a minority, I could never be English. And no matter how much I might protest, they would argue that as a black man, it would be sheer chutzpah for me to proclaim my identity as English.
This narrative is one that tells us as minorities, we aren’t welcome. And even when inadvertently, England’s past and its present can echo the same ideals. It can represent a hostility towards minorities that many associate with Englishness and indeed Britishness. Take the St George’s Cross. What should be an innocent symbol of patriotism can mean something completely different for many minorities.